But Massey has frequently appealed its violations, an increasingly common tactic by mine operators following the Sago deaths. Mine companies are now contesting 27 percent of the violations they face, compared with just 6 percent in 2005.
The flood of appeals has clogged an overburdened system and allowed repeat violators to delay more serious punishment. As long as the citations are being contested, MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) DOES NOT consider them in deciding whether there is a serious enough pattern of misconduct to warrant greater scrutiny.
Critics say the AGENCY has been too SLOW to respond to these tactics and that reining in the appeals process would go a long way toward preventing catastrophes.
Celeste Monforton, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University, said the OBAMA ADMINISTRATION WAS AWARE A YEAR AGO that a surge in appeals of violations was creating a huge backlog of cases.
"That's a HUGE missed opportunity for the NEW ADMINISTRATION," said Monforton, who spent six years as a special assistant to MSHA's assistant director.
United Mine Workers labor union President Cecil Roberts said more regulation isn't needed, just better enforcement.
"Mine safety laws and regulations have progressed to the point where, when followed and properly enforced, they should prevent disasters like this one at Upper Big Branch from happening," Roberts said. "Clearly that was not the case here."